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Winthrop Edges Liberty in Overtime

January 14, 2012
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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The Liberty men's basketball team nearly squeaked out a win against Winthrop in the Vines Center, Saturday night. After experiencing its first overtime this season, the Flames finished just shy of the victory, falling to the Eagles, 64-61.

The Flames overtime period marked its first in almost a year since defeating UNC Asheville in the Vines Center, 83-81, on Jan. 27, 2011.

With the defeat, Liberty falls to 6-14 on the season and 1-7 in Big South play. Winthrop moves to 7-11 overall and 4-3 in conference action.

John Caleb Sanders finished with a game-high 20 points. Jesse Sanders followed up with 13 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Reggie Middleton paced the Eagles offense with 16-points, becoming the 19th player in Winthrop history to score 1,000 points. Andre Jones chipped in 14 tallies for the Eagles.

Both offenses started slow in the early going. With Winthrop holding a two-point lead, Joel Vander Pol knotted the game at six, hitting a short jumper off a David Minaya pass. George Valentine put the Eagles back on top with a layup, but Antwan Burrus answered on the other end with a jumper to tie the contest again, 8-8, at 12:26.

Visiting Winthrop broke up the seesaw battle, going on a 9-0 run over the next 4:14, with baskets by Matt Morgan, Gideon Gameble and James Bourne. David Minaya halted the Eagles run, hitting a jumper at 7:05 to spark an 8-0 Liberty surge. During the burst, the Flames received buckets from Tavares Speaks, John Caleb Sanders and Burrus. Winthrop's Joab Jerome put an end to Liberty's run with 3:36 left in the period, nailing a jump shot to give Winthrop a 19-16 advantage.

Four unanswered points by Jesse Sanders put the Flames in front at the 2:25 mark, as the exchange of the lead began again. Following a Reggie Middleton layup to give the Eagles the advantage, Sanders put the Flames back on top with two free throws. Gamble closed out the half with the final basket, sinking a jumper with 49 ticks left to put Winthrop ahead, 23-22, at halftime.

A combined score of 45 points marks the lowest in one half during a Liberty game this season. Twenty three points also ties the lowest allowed by the Flames in a half this season. Liberty also held Randolph College to 23 points in the first half on Nov. 9.

Winthrop shot 38.5 percent (10-of-26) from the field in the first half, while Liberty posted 37.5 percent (9-of-24). For the third straight game, Liberty concluded the first half without making a three pointer.

Gamble led the Eagles at halftime with eight points, while Valentine grabbed six boards. Jesse Sanders paced the Flames with six points and six rebounds.

In the second half, Winthrop continued to stay one possession ahead of the Flames until the 16:11 mark. Upon receiving a pass from Jesse Sanders, younger brother John Caleb sank a trey that ignited the Vines Center crowd and planted Liberty on top by one. After Tavarus Speaks tacked on a free throw, Winthrop answered with two of their own, knotting the game at 29. Minaya broke up the stalemate at 13:49, sinking a jumper to make it 31-29.

Jesse Sanders gave Liberty a five-point lead with 10:24 remaining in the conests, draining his 11th three ball of the season. Winthrop was able to climb within one, but John Caleb Sanders knocked down a trey of his own to give Liberty a four-point cushion. After a tip-in by Burrus, John Caleb Sanders nailed another shot from downtown, capping an 8-0 run to put Liberty ahead by nine points, 44-35 at 7:36

Despite the burst by Liberty, the Eagles refused to go away, going on a 10-2 run over the next 2:32. With Winthrop within one point of the Flames, Dale Layer's squad countered with buckets by John Caleb Sanders and Burrus push their advantage to five points, 50-45, with 2:35 left on the clock.

The Eagles erased the Liberty bulge, thanks to a Middleton three-pointer and a jumper by Jones, tying the game at 50 with 1:38 remaining. Both teams went scoreless over the next 1:08. With 30 ticks remaining, MInaya hit a clutch three-pointer to give Liberty the lead.

A tip-in by Valentine cut the Liberty lead to one with 16 ticks left. On the next possession, the Eagles fouled Jesse Sanders, sending him to the line. Sanders went one-of-two from the charity stripe, giving Liberty a two-point advantage.

With five seconds on the clock, Jones converted a layup to tie the game at 54-54. Jesse Sanders drove down the court on the next possession and tried a game-winning shot, but it hit the right side of the rim, forcing overtime.

During the extra period, Middleton gave Winthrop the lead with 4:17 left on the clock. Seventeen second later, John Caleb Sanders tied the game again with a pair of made free throw.

The Eagles pulled out to a four-point advantage with a traditional three-point play by Bourne and a Jones free throw. After two Minaya foul shots, Valentine connected on a dunk to regain Winthrop's four-point edge.

With 19 ticks on the clock, Jesse Sanders drained a three-pointer, putting the Flames within one. However, two free throws by Jones on the other end sealed the contest for the Eagles. Minaya took one last three-point attempt just before the buzzer, but could not get the shot to fall, as Winthrop held on for the 64-61 win.

Liberty finished with 39.3 percent (22-of-56) from the field in the contest, while the Eagles shot 42.4 percent (25-of-59) on the night. Winthrop controlled the paint in the contest, outpointing the home team, 36-24. The Eagles also won the rebound battle, 46-37.

The Flames outscored the Eagles from behind the three-point arce, 18-12, finishing with more made three-pointers than its opponent (6-4) since the season opener against No. 19 Texas A&M (Nov. 9), when Liberty hit five compared to the Aggies one.

Winthrop returns to the Winthrop Coliseum on Tuesday to host Gardner-Webb at 7 p.m.

Liberty will take a one-week break, before returning to action at High Point next Saturday. Game time at the Millis Center is slated for 7 p.m.